Lately, every time I pick up the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch television, I get some more disheartening news from the business world. I read with sadness about the demise of Montgomery Ward, which was once one of our country's greatest department store chains. It pained me to learn that JCPenney is in trouble and many of the company's top executives are resigning. And I felt just terrible when I heard that Sears is closing 89 locations.

But the litany of bad news doesn't stop there. In our own industry, Armstrong files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to the company's asbestos liabilities. After a short time in retail, Shaw sells or closes its retail stores and moves in a different direction. Beaulieu acquires LDBrinkman and consolidates some of the operation. Mohawk takes on distribution of Congoleum.

I think it's hard to find anything good in all this. In every one of these examples, I believe the creditors, employees, stockholders, and consumers all lost, or will eventually lose, something they once had.

When I was growing up, the Wards and Sears stores were amazing places. I was always astounded by the variety of merchandise they offered. Their catalogs were a cornucopia of things to wish for -- in fact, we called those catalogs "The Wish Books." When a catalog arrived in the mail, we'd pore over it for hours, just looking and wishing. And JCPenney was another great place to shop. The store always delivered on its motto, "Satisfaction or your money back."

I well remember many good companies in the flooring industry that, regrettably, have come and gone -- Firth, A&M Karagusian, Painter, Downs, Barwick, Noxon, and others. These were the names, products and people that helped build our industry.

Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, anticipate that so many of the companies that were once the biggest and the best would one day just close down? I, for one, find it most unfortunate. I feel sorry for all the employees, some of whom had spent their entire careers working for these companies, who lost their jobs. I also feel bad for the stockholders and creditors who lost money on their investments. And I feel sorry for consumers because they lost choices. In these situations, nobody wins -- except for lawyers and accountants.

I truly miss these companies that, at one time, meant so much to us all. I find myself wondering why their businesses went into decline. I suppose they, like other companies that are having difficulty succeeding in today's business environment, just lost touch with reality. They didn't keep up with the consumer's ever-changing desires and failed to provide improved products and presentations.

To succeed in today's business environment, you need to be into the high-speed cyberspace world of computers, and you'd better be able to react to consumer wants and desires quickly -- or at least quicker than your competition. You'd better have the best-trained people and provide the best service in the marketplace. To succeed over the long term, you absolutely must strive to be the best at whatever you do.

If you run a company, don't let your people down. Prepare now to conquer the future and grow your company profitably. I really don't want to write some day about your company closing down. After all, I might have friends who work for you.

My advice to you is to SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITIES to learn about the Internet, find out what your customers really want, train your people, and satisfy the customer. Join a national association of your choice and in your field of interest. All of these organizations exist to help you succeed through education and specialized guidance.

Flooring retailers should consider membership in the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Installers can join the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) or Floor Covering Installation Contractors Association (FCICA). And for distributors and manufacturers there's the National Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and my organization, the Floor Installation Association of North America (FIANA). Don't wait, join up today!